I have always been a strong supporter of environmental protection and have fought to safeguard and improve our major environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund). These and other laws have made our waterways safe again, made progress on reducing harmful air pollution, and cleaned up and revitalized previously contaminated sites in our inner cities and rural areas. While these landmark environmental laws have provided a tremendous benefit to the Silver State, there is still much more to do.
Nevada’s dramatic landscapes – from the high alpine lakes of the Pine Forest Range to the stark open spaces of the Black Rock Desert to the incredible striking rock formations in the Gold Butte complex – have provided inspiration to generations of Nevadans. However, as our population’s needs change and new industries come to the Silver State, our natural resources and treasured public lands face greater and greater demands. Our challenge is to find a balance between growth and protection so that those who follow us will have the same opportunity to find and experience these incredible places as we have.
I have been working for over 20 years to restore Lake Tahoe, the jewel of the Sierras, to its fabled clarity. I am proud to have convened the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997 to draw national attention to the declining health and clarity of the lake. Then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore accepted my invitation to attend the event and helped bring much needed attention to the problems facing the Lake Tahoe Basin. Much has been accomplished in recent years, but there is more work to be done.
In 2000, I worked closely with local stakeholders and members of Congress to pass the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which authorized $300 million over ten years for restoration efforts at the lake. This funding has supported land acquisition, erosion control, forest management, fire suppression, and efforts to improve water quality. I am working with California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. Our legislation would authorize additional federal contributions over ten years to continue building on the tremendous progress we have already made in restoring the lake.
I will keep fighting every year to make sure Lake Tahoe gets the federal funding and attention it needs and deserves. For more information on my work to protect and restore Lake Tahoe please click here.
Great Basin National Park
One of the first major pieces of legislation I authored in Congress was the law that created Great Basin National Park in 1986. The 76,000 acre park in eastern Nevada features dramatic mountain ranges, our country’s southernmost glacier, ancient bristlecone pine forests, famously dark skies, and some of the cleanest air anywhere in America. During my time in Congress, I have consistently passed legislation to protect and enhance Great Basin National Park and the surrounding communities in White Pine County, including $3.2 million for the construction of the Great Basin National Park Visitor Learning Center, funding for park campgrounds and trail systems, and transferring hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land to National Park Service management to further protect this beautiful area and to keep popular hunting areas open and accessible. I have also worked to improve the park’s air classification to ensure that the park remains pristine for future generations.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Red Rock is the crown jewel of Las Vegas Valley and is a true conservation success story. In 1990, I helped lead to passage legislation that established the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and ensured that the Red Rock area will be preserved so that future generations can continue to enjoy the scenic and recreational opportunities that we cherish today. Red Rock, just seventeen miles from the Las Vegas Strip, contains some of the most spectacular scenery in Southern Nevada. It hosts over one million visitors each year, and has become a significant tourist attraction in its own right. In recent years, Red Rock Canyon has been recognized as one of the top rock climbing locations in the world.
Desert Terminus Lakes
Over the past century, Walker Lake has lost much of its volume and its water level has fallen by 130 feet. Walker Lake, like Pyramid and Summit Lakes, is a desert terminus lake – meaning it only loses water from evaporation. As water flow to the lake has steadily declined, the lake’s salinity has increased, threatening the survival of rare fish like the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the tui-chub. For over a decade, I have worked with federal, state, local, and tribal governmental officials to restore Walker River in-stream flows and to bolster Walker Lake and its wildlife populations. Since then, I have also directed over $375 million toward restoration and preservation efforts at all three of Nevada’s desert terminus lakes. The projects undertaken to date have augmented conservation efforts; improved water efficiencies; protected, restored, and strengthened fish and wildlife habitats; and fostered research specific to Nevada’s terminus lakes and their ecosystems – all while protecting local agricultural interests.
Making Federal Lands Work for Local Communities
Payment in Lieu of Taxes and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act
Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS) are vitally important programs for rural Nevada. The PILT and SRS funds compensate Nevada counties for the lost tax revenue that results from federal ownership of 87% of the land in Nevada. During my time in Congress, I have worked hard to increase the amount of funding that Nevada counties receive from these programs. Most recently, I worked closely with a large bipartisan coalition of Western senators to introduce legislation to extend the PILT and SRS programs for another five years to provide for critical local government services and jobs during these difficult economic times.
Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act
In 1998 with the help of the Nevada delegation, I was able to enact the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA), which reinvests the funding generated from land sales in the Las Vegas Valley in high priority conservation, park, and trail projects, the development of public facilities like the Clark County Shooting Park, the protection and acquisition of sensitive lands, and Lake Tahoe restoration projects. Over the years, I have worked tirelessly to defeat attempts from Republican Administrations and Members of Congress to take these funds from Nevadans and return them to the U.S. Treasury. Since passage, the SNPLMA fund has paid out more than $3.3 billion for job-creating, locally-nominated, projects in Nevada.
County Public Lands Legislation
I have passed a number of county-focused public land laws that carefully balance job creating economic development opportunities with important conservation initiatives. I have consistently worked with state and local governments, business leaders, conservation advocates, and other stakeholders in Nevada develop strong bipartisan legislation that address many of the federal lands issues in Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine Counties, as well as in Carson City.
- In 2002, the Clark County lands bill made thousands of acres of federal land available for economic opportunities in Clark County, protected 440,000 acres of sensitive lands in Clark County, created the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and expanded the boundaries of Red Rock National Conservation Area.
- I supported legislation for Lincoln County in 2004 that funded the development of a multispecies habitat conservation plan for the county. The bill also provided protection for sensitive archaeological sites and designated over 768,000 acres of wilderness for hunting and other non-motorized recreation.
- Building on the successes of the Clark and Lincoln County bills, I worked closely numerous parties throughout the state to develop legislation for White Pine County. That bill expanded state parks and recreation areas, provided a timely economic boost by making lands available for expansion of the Ely airport and industrial park, added important protections for Great Basin National Park, protected 559,000 acres of incredible wilderness lands, and provided new lands for the future growth of the Ely Shoshone Tribe.
- More recently, I partnered with community leaders to develop a comprehensive lands bill for Carson City that was included in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. This legislation increased open space opportunities and helps the city pursue its smart growth plans. The bill also directed the Forest Service and BLM to work with Carson City to provide high value lands to the city, such as the Silver Saddle Ranch and Prison Hill, so that these areas can more effectively managed as open space parkland for the enjoyment of current and future Nevadans.
In 2005, I worked closely with members from both parties to pass legislation that reaffirmed each state’s right to regulate hunting and fishing. A court ruling had threatened to undermine the traditional role that states have in regulating its hunting and fishing laws. I respect the authority of states to enact laws to protect their legitimate interests in conserving fish and game, as well as providing opportunities for in-state and out-of-state residents to hunt and fish.
I am also a strong advocate for efforts to bolster Nevada’s wildlife populations. I have been proud to support the installation and maintenance of “guzzlers” on state and public lands in Nevada, which provide vital water sources for wildlife during drought conditions. Thanks to the work of volunteers from across our state, Nevada is home to the second largest bighorn sheep population in the country. These efforts are essential for providing outstanding recreational opportunities for Nevadans.
Moreover, I have helped secure millions of dollars to help restore and enhance our native fisheries, including the reintroduction of Lahontan cutthroat trout into many of our states streams. The Lahontan cutthroat trout is unique to Nevada, and restoring the population along the Truckee and Walker Rivers will increase recreational opportunities, while guaranteeing the future of this important and historic species. In recent years, I have delivered over $3 million in federal funding to Nevada for the propagation of the Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Lake Tahoe basin and the Truckee, Carson, and Walker River basins.
The Clean Air Act is the cornerstone of our Nation's efforts to reduce air pollution from vehicles, power plants, and industrial sources. This forward-looking law has helped make significant progress in ensuring clean air, while still allowing our population and economy to grow. Despite the cost-effective success of the Clean Air Act, some members of Congress would like to do away with its health protections, which have prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and millions of pollution-related illnesses. Over the years, I have fought repeated efforts to dismantle the Act’s protections, and I will continue to defend the goals and sensible implementation of this important statute. The Clean Air Act is a common-sense law that says when utilities, industrial facilities, and other major emission sources upgrade their plants and equipment, they should install the most modern pollution controls available. Fortunately, the Obama Administration is working hard to implement the Act in a practical manner that meets the nation’s scientifically-documented environmental and public health needs.
I have been a strong supporter of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Water is scarce in Nevada, and protecting its quality and quantity is vital to the well-being and economy of our state. These two laws have implemented pollution control programs, set water quality standards, and funded waste water treatment facilities in Nevada. Throughout my time in Congress, I have helped provide funding for water system improvements for communities across Nevada. Improving and maintaining the quality of water in Nevada will continue to be one of my highest priorities as Nevada’s senior Senator.
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The United States accounts for approximately 4.5 percent of the world’s population, yet it is responsible for about 20 percent of the world’s climate changing pollution.
At the most recent National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, I spoke about how the United States is seeing unparalleled extreme weather events – events scientists say are exactly what are expected as the earth's climate changes. The seriousness of this problem is not lost on the average American or Nevadan and most people understand that climate change is real, and that it is a a major contributor to extreme weather events.
Climate change will have enormous consequences for Nevada, the Great Basin, and all of the Southwest – average temperatures are currently rising, and it is widely predicted that climate change will decrease precipitation. Drought will make farming and ranching tougher, increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and could drive many plant and animal species to extinction. Some invasive plants, such as cheatgrass, are better suited to hotter climates, and are already replacing native vegetation. These effects create serious challenges and could become catastrophic in the future if we fail to take action.
Wildfires play an important role in naturally-functioning rangelands and forests, but as we know in Nevada, out-of-control wildfires can devastate our communities, reduce forage for livestock, and destroy wildlife habitat. In addition to ensuring our firefighters have the resources they need to battle wildfires, I have secured hundreds of millions of dollars for removing hazardous fuels, eradicating fire-prone invasive species across Nevada, and establishing a native plant seed warehouse in Ely to serve the entire Great Basin.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, I worked hard to ensure that coverage on public grazing allotments was extended into a ranchers’ second year of loss if grazing is restricted due to wildfire. This legislation made significant progress in addressing the threat of wildfire to Nevada’s rangeland and to the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, conservation practices that help to prevent the occurrence, spread of, and damages caused by wildfire to rangeland now receive funding. In addition, the bill established a new Livestock Forage Program within the Disaster Assistance Program to provide coverage for loss of pastureland, both public grazing allotments and private rangeland, in the event of drought and wildfire.
In recent years, the sage grouse population across the west has dramatically declined, and in March of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the sage grouse “warranted but precluded” from listing under the Endangered Species Act. A “warranted but precluded” determination does not mean that the sage grouse will necessarily end up as a listed species under the Endangered Species Act, because other species are currently a higher priority for being listed. At my request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, provided $16 million in 2011 to farmers and ranchers in Nevada and other states for projects that will help improve sage grouse habitat and bolster sage grouse populations. By working with federal and state land managers and local landowners we can improve sage grouse numbers while also ensuring that traditional industries like grazing, ranching, and mining are protected and new job-creating industries like renewable energy can continue to grow.